The last couple of days have been filled with sadness and anger and fear. I am saddened by the loss of life. I am angry that so much harm has been done and that we seem to be beyond communicating with one another. I am heartbroken that so many families are grieving today.
On days like today, I need to get away and walk with my dogs. I need to think, process what has happened. I need to be in nature. That’s why I chose this video for today. I am hoping it brings you the zen I seek as I head out today.
Be thoughtful. Be safe. Be kind.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a two-day workshop on dog interactions, dog behavior, aggression and behavior management. One session focused on behaviors often seen at dog parks and doggy daycares. It was eye-opening, mind-expanding and thought-provoking.
One of the key learnings I took away from the seminar had to do with what we often like to think of as “playing” at the dog park. (Hint: Most of what we see at the dog park is not playing.)
When we think of dogs playing, what do we often see them doing? Chasing? Wrestling? Playing tug? Probably all of those right? But what are we missing?
If you’ve watched any of Sue Sternberg‘s dog park videos, probably a lot. Dogs are always communicating with one another, whether it be before, during or after their interactions with one another. What we consider “play” at the dog park is often not play, but something else, something frightening and dangerous – dog-on-dog aggression.
Sue calls out five “Red Alert” behaviors that we dog owners should be watching for when we take our dogs to the dog park. We should be intervening immediately when we see them. These behaviors include:
- Risky chasing behaviors almost always include out of control and high arousal chasing that may include one of more of the following: group chase, hard physical contact, pinning, high tail carriage, neck or throat fixation and the chasee hiding, or trying to get away.
- Mobbing is a group of individual dogs approaching, harassing, controlling or attacking a single dog. This can be with or without bloodshed.
- Targeting is one dog following or pursuing another dog relentlessly, exclusively, obsessively. It’s relentless engagement that may or may not include many of the behaviors displayed in Risky Chasing.
- Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior through the use of physical overpowering, hard contact, body slamming, hip-checking, shoulder-checking, relentless engagement, chase or ganging up to affect an individual dog.
- Hunting is when a dog moves around the dog park going from dog to dog, looking for something to jab, chase, poke, pounce on, roll. This is not looking for a playmate, but forcing himself on other dogs.
I have seen many of these behaviors at my own dog park and have intervened as often as possible, but it takes everyone in the dog park watching for them to ensure dogs stay safe. And, if you are the owner of a dog who is hiding, has a tucked tail, is cowering or running away or the recipient of any of the five Red Alert behaviors, remove him from the park immediately. Not only is he not having fun, but he could be injured.
Worried you won’t remember any of these behaviors? Or, worried your own dog is practicing these “bad” behaviors in your dog park? I highly recommend you get Sue’s Dog Park Assistant app for your phone. It only costs 99 cents, but it will pay for itself in the long run.
The app provides you with not only descriptions of Red Alert behaviors, but also videos showing what each looks like. It also shows you other common dog behaviors at lower threat levels. You can input your own dog’s profile and set it to remind you to intervene while you are at the dog park or review some dog park tips, best practices and find external resources to help you.
I know many of you will say “This is why I never go to the dog park.”, but as Sue said in the seminar, they exist for a reason and they are here to stay. With more of us living in cities where green space is difficult to find, and where more and more homes are becoming two-dog households, dog parks serve a purpose. Dogs need to run and in some cities, dog parks are the only place available for them to do that. But, if they are to be safe, we all need to take a part in keeping it that way.
Here’s an example of Bullying, one of the five Red Alert behaviors.
I often try to remember back to when I adopted my first shelter dog. I was so uninformed and inexperienced back then. I had never adopted a dog before. I had absolutely no idea what to expect with an adult dog, especially not one who had a whole history behind her that I didn’t even know about. I probably made a lot of mistakes and bad decisions in those early days (I am sure of it).
What I didn’t know then, but know now is that for a rescue or shelter dog, the first few days and weeks in their new home are risky ones. They are at the mercy of their new human to make the right decisions for them. One mistake, and the dog could end up back at the shelter, or worse, euthanized for a serious mistake that could have been prevented if the human had made a different choice.
That last part is what I was thinking today when I read a story on my local station’s website – “Brainerd Woman Suffers ‘Serious’ Injuries from Dog Bite”. If what the dog owner said was true, and he actually did just adopt the dog who bit the woman in the story, then he just put his new dog’s life in danger. Most likely, when he and his dog are found, his dog will be quarantined, and then euthanized. One mistake. One life.
I don’t want make pet adoption seem so serious and dire, but it kind of is. We can make a lot of survivable mistakes with our newly adopted pets, but there are a few that could place their lives, and others, in danger. Knowing what not to do can be the difference between life and death.
Here are a few things NOT to do when you adopt a rescue or shelter dog.
- Take him to a pet store – A dog in a shelter environment is already stressed out. Taking him from one stressful place to another stressful place, with a complete stranger (yes, that would be you), is a recipe for disaster. A stressed dog may do things they might not do in a another time and place. I remember one dog that was adopted from our shelter and taken immediately to a pet store to purchase some things for him. He ended up biting a child and as a result, lost his life. I know another dog who was adopted right off the rescue transport and taken to a pet store. He escaped the car and was missing for several days. When he was found he was almost 20 miles away from where he was lost. It almost cost him his life. Luckily, a stranger came upon his dehydrated body and saved him.
- Take her to the dog park – Not only has your new dog not had a chance to bond with you, but even more importantly, she doesn’t even know you yet. I still remember a couple who brought their new dog straight from the animal shelter to the dog park and ended up spending a couple of hours trying to catch her. She might have been having a ball, but they were not. Luckily, their dog was not aggressive, but many people have brought an adopted dog to the dog park who was. To assume a dog you just adopted is not dog aggressive or will not harm another dog is not only naive, but dangerous. Get to know your dog before introducing her to other dogs and people. You may also want to work on training her to come when called before letting her off-leash in a dog park.
- Invite friends and family over to meet her right away – People often want to show off their new dog right after they adopt them, but this can be a huge mistake. Strangely enough, dogs are very much like us humans in that they need time to get settled into a new place. Imagine how overwhelmed you would feel if your new neighbors came over and started making themselves at home while you are still unpacking from the move. Pretty uncomfortable, right? So imagine being a dog and having complete strangers invade your space and touch you and get in your face when you haven’t even had a chance to get settled into your new home. Not fun. It’s also a recipe for disaster. One mistake, one dog bite later, and you may have a dead newly adopted dog.
- Let him off-leash in a public place – See #2 above. No, seriously, why would you let a dog you don’t know off-leash in an unconfined area? You don’t even know if he likes squirrels or people or other dogs. If you have a dog like Jasper (my Sheltie), then you might find out that he likes to herd runners and bikers and skateboarders and…. yeah, you get my point. Once you let a new dog off-leash, you have no control. Not only do you risk him getting lost, but you also risk being liable to the danger he might do to another person or dog (see the news story I mentioned above).
- Leave him out in your yard unattended – This one might sound silly, but I really cannot emphasize it enough – Do Not Leave Your New Dog Unattended In Your Backyard. The riskiest time for a new dog to become lost is in those first few days and weeks in a new home. Your new dog is probably stressed and scared and disoriented. One strange noise or sudden movement or scary incident and he can be gone in a flash, right over the fence. Being in the yard with him tells him he is not alone. It also ensure that he won’t have a chance to dig under a fence or look for an escape route, and if he does, you have an opportunity to redirect him before he makes it out.
Most rescue and shelter dogs are not there because they were bad dogs or had behavioral issues. Most are there because someone had to move or was going through a life change that required them to give up their pet. They need time to adjust to all the changes.
And while these dogs are awesome pets and companions, they also have the potential to bite if backed into a corner or placed in a stressful situation (every dog has the potential to bite when placed in a stressful position with no way out). It is up to us, as their new owners, to protect them. It is up to us to do right by them. Spend time getting to know your new dog, and let him get to know you too. Before introducing him to all the new wonderful things in your world, take the time to bond. You have time. You have the rest of your lives to do all those cool things you want to do together. Why rush it?
If you ask, I am sure many people would tell you that I tend to go a little overboard where my pets are concerned. (I know for sure my family would!) I tend to buy them things that I think will enrich their lives and make them happy.
I think in the case of my dogs, I wanted to make up for the bad lives they had early on. I also want them to have lives that is enriched by a wide variety of fun experiences. (What’s the fun in having a dog if you can’t enjoy the fun they have with you?)
So while I do have a logic behind what I do for my pets, I also know that I am not the norm.
After all, I …
Buy dog games for my dogs, just so they can work their brains on a cold winter’s night.
Have at least 20 tennis balls so my crazy Sheltie has plenty to play with throughout the year.
Take my dogs to a wide variety of parks so they can explore something new and different.
Hide treats in the yard so my dogs can have fun using their noses and their brains to find them.
Even placed a step stool next to my tall bed just so my dogs can come up when they want.
But this weekend I think I may have gone a little overboard (even for me). On a trip to Costco I found a dog bed that was the absolute ultimate in dog bed luxury.
How could I resist?
It contains orthopedic memory foam with cooling gel and has a plush pillow top cover. It’s softer than a baby’s bottom and it is so squish-able, in that memory foam kind of way, that even I want to lie down on it.
It’s too bad I didn’t think about the size. Hmmm… crazy? Overboard?
So, what over-the top-kind of thing have you done for your pet(s)?
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